Episode 60. Susanne Paulus: Back to School in Babylonia: Transcript

0:13  JT

Hello, and welcome to the Thin End of the Wedge, the podcast where experts from around the world share new and interesting stories about life in the ancient Middle East. My name is Jon. Each episode I talk to friends and colleagues and get them to explain their work in a way we can all understand.

0:32  JT

Have you ever wondered what it takes to put on an exhibition in a museum? Maybe you’re imagining a curator, arranging and rearranging pots in a display case, until it looks right. The reality is very different, even for a small temporary display. Behind that curator sent out to talk to the press stands a complex team of specialists bringing together a diverse range of skills.

1:00  JT

An exhibition burns brightly, but briefly. It will be open to the public for only a few months. That short period is the culmination of a process stretching back far longer. Exhibitions are years in the making. Our guest is lead curator of a new exhibition. She explains how it came to be made, what needs to be done, and who are the invisible minds and hands that helped shape the visitor’s experience.

1:33  JT

So get yourself a cup of tea, make yourself comfortable, and let’s meet today’s guest.

1:47  JT

Hello, and welcome to Thin End of the Wedge. Thank you for joining us. Could you tell us please: who are you, and what do you do?

1:55  SP

Hi. So my name is Susanna Paulus. I’m an associate professor of assyriology at the University of Chicago, and the tablet collection curator at ISAC, which stands for the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures, West Asia and North Africa. So in the past, you may have known this as the Oriental Institute.

2:17  JT

We’re going to talk today about an exhibition you’re working on. Could you give us a brief introduction to the exhibition please? What is it and when is it?

2:25  SP

Yeah, so this is an exhibition I’m curating with the team for ISAC. The topic is scribal education in Babylonia. So we do especially focus on House F in Nippur, which may be familiar to some of the listeners of the podcast as one of the best-known examples of a scribal school in the Old Babylonian period. We are roughly timewise around 1740 BCE. And yeah, the exhibition is running from September 21st of this year to March 24th of next year. And all the material in it or most of the material in it was excavated by the Universities of Chicago and Pennsylvania in 1951-52. And the objects found during those excavations are currently in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, in the Penn Museum in Philadelphia, and in the ISAC Museum and the tablet collection.

3:27  JT

Okay, what are the key goals of this exhibition?

3:31  SP

So yeah, we really have three sets of goals roughly connected to the material itself, education and also scholarship. I mean, many of the listeners of the podcast may know the wonderful material we do have about Babylonian education, especially from the Old Babylonian period. But what we wanted to do is to make this really available for the public, and let them discover ancient education through material objects. And also give them a glimpse into all the research and really tell a story about those students in ancient Iraq. And yeah, on the educational side, we wanted to raise awareness of the intellectual heritage of ancient Iraq, meaning not only like the ziggurats and the temples and statues, but the textual side of things: the literature, the poetry and those kinds of things which survive in the school materials.

4:41  SP

We also saw this as a chance to really connect ancient and modern experiences about education. We did this also by making the curation process itself about an educational experience. I co-curated with a team of our students. And we’ll talk more about them later. And yeah, on the scholarly side as you yourself Jon, you’re are part of the scholarship about Babylonian education. I mean, there’s so much done already. But we really took this as an opportunity to research and document the cuneiform tablets in our collection. And also to kick off the Nippur tablet project, which has the goal of making all our Nippur tablets at ISAC and coming from the ISAC excavations available online and to a wider public.

5:37  JT

How big an exhibition is this? How many objects are in it? Did they all come from the ISAC collection? Or did you need to borrow from elsewhere?

5:46  SP

So, yeah, like how big is it? If you are familiar with our special exhibition space, you may know that it’s a really small space. So we had space constrictions, but we’re having 126 objects in the exhibition. Most of them are inscribed clay tablets, and prisms and similar objects. But we also included clay figurines, terracotta plaques, ceramics, like vessels, some weights, and other things which come from the same context. And we were able to borrow 15 objects from the Penn Museum. Those include some of them, which are very well known to the public, like the famous tablet with the bite marks of a student, but also a beautiful prism with personal names. And the plaque with a striding lion, which was once on the walls of House F.

6:48  SP

One thing I really wanted to do was borrowing from the Iraq Museum. But this was sadly impossible. So we came up with a way of honouring their side and their objects, because during the excavations, they made plaster casts of all the finds … the inscribed finds … and we have them in our collection. So at least we could include the Iraq Museum in some way.

7:16  JT

Okay. I guess you addressed there what was going to be my next question in terms of which of these hundred or so objects are the star pieces? And what stories do you want to tell with them? I guess the one with the student’s tooth marks is prime engagement material there.

7:32  SP

Yeah. But it’s a really interesting question. So if you’re coming into this exhibition, and you’re looking, I don’t know, for the mask of Tutankhamun or really the star of the show, we don’t have this. We don’t have this one single object, which takes your breath away. I think it’s more the storytelling of the objects together and the things you find if you look closer, like the bite marks, or the toothmarks you just mentioned. But you will also find amazing details like the tablet, where you can still see the finger marks of the student who erased it several times. Or the tablet where a student made a mistake with the calculations. Or one of my favourites, which is a really tiny prism, where a novice practicing Syllabary B– so one of the earliest exercises–wrote it on one of the most complex shapes, a prism. And in doing so he messed up things along the way. And I think, seeing those marks and mistakes and the humanity behind the objects, I think that’s the star of the show.

8:46  SP

Also, really early on, we were at sort of a crossroads. One of the things were did we want to highlight the most amazing tablets of ancient education, like the ones with the drawings and the most complete prisms and those? Or do we want to work with the amazing assemblage of House F, where we do have the architecture, the objects and the exercises, but also texts like Edubba A or Schooldays talking about school life in ancient Babylonia. And we decided to do the latter. And then we also transformed our rather modest exhibition space, which is actually just a little bit bigger than House F into the school house itself, and reconstructed some of the architecture. I visited this morning. You can enter through an arched entryway and the light conditions change, because you’re inside the school house. And we were able to reconstruct some of the architectural features like the bench where the students were possibly sitting and writing, or the box for tablet making. And also … you’re very critical about that … recycling. So this was really fun to do, and hopefully also brings the objects to life.

10:10  JT

That’s a really interesting idea. I mean, when you enter the exhibition, do you enter then the courtyard? Or do you go into the back room or whatever?

10:18  SP

It’s a little bit more abstract. So as you may very well know, the entryway of House F is not excavated. So we’ve reconstructed the entryway and then you go around the corner, and then you are in the first rooms. But due to many regulations in museum architecture, we couldn’t make everything as tiny and the walls as close together and the rooms as small as in House F. But the overall structure looks similar. And the bench is placed at least where Room 205 would be. And the recycling box is in the courtyard region and that way, and we obviously also show floor plans and try to explain it to the visitor where you are.

11:05  JT

Okay, interesting. I guess we turn to the objects again. With a topic like this, you face a huge, huge challenge, in how do you display lots of small brown lumps? So you have 100 or so objects; they’re tablets, terracottas, ceramics. They’re all this very difficult material. You and I can see why they’re interesting. But quite often, visitors don’t even recognise that cuneiform is writing at all. And even when they do make that recognition, they have no way of knowing what that says. And they’re not going to be familiar enough with, if you like, “real” cuneiform documents to see that these are training texts. How do you tackle these kinds of challenges? How do you help them to connect with the objects to see what they actually are?

11:51  SP

Yeah, I mean, that’s, I think, one of the most difficult challenges we face. And hopefully, once we hear the first voices of our visitors, we will see if we have been successful. I remember very well, when we laid out the material for the first time, the museum people were like, “Oh, my god, it’s all clay, there’s very little images, it’s gonna be super hard”. And one thing is we really heavily invested in storytelling. So for example, instead of describing the educational tablets, with the typical ways, like Type 1 to Type 4, we really introduced them as part of the story Schooldays, because some of them are featured in Schooldays. And then when the story is talking, that the teacher is writing an exercise, we display what we call a “teacher-student exercise”, where the teacher wrote on the one side and the student copied on the other. We try to stay away calling this a “Type 2”. We also really let the visitor follow the curriculum and learn alongside the students. So once you’re introduced to the questions of who went to school, and what we know, and what we don’t know, you really follow the curriculum along.

12:17  SP

And one thing I fought really hard for doing is what we call the annotation. So each tablet is presented on a background and around the tablet there are interesting features of the tablet, which we are pointing out. So for example, we are pointing out where you can see finger marks. But we are also when we are introducing the list of trees and wooden objects, we are pointing out how the sign “GISH” looks like, and where you can find it on the tablet. So our visitor is gaining a little bit of literacy in cuneiform signs. And we really want to give them the agency also to see things on the tablets. And especially lexical lists, work really well, because we have all those repetitive signs. And then yeah, we’ll see how it works. I can tell you it was really hard for our design team to realise this idea, because every tablet needs to be positioned exactly how we imagined it in the displays. That was a little bit challenging.

14:35  JT

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can imagine. Are you using graphics or interactives? Do you have videos and sound? Things like that?

14:43  SP

Yeah, we do. We decided, for example, not to put a reconstructed stylus into the exhibition, but a video where you see someone making a tablet or writing it and then getting frustrated and throwing it back into the box. {LAUGHS} We also do have sound. So thanks to our new wonderful colleague, Jana Matuszak, who is also a regular on this podcast, we have recordings of the disputes … of two of the disputes … so you can listen to the soundscapes in translation. And generally we invested in translation, meaning almost all the tablets are accompanied by either if they don’t have annotations, they have those small translations. So you can if you want, read more into them. But also we decided to translate some of the topics into more modern language. So rather than grouping literature into hymns, epics, myths, literary, wisdom literature, all this. We merge the genres and ask questions like “what did they learn about religion, history, rhetoric, ethics, and so on?

16:08  JT

Yeah, I think sometimes you have to translate the topics as well as the text, don’t you?

16:12  SP

Yeah, we definitely decided doing. And we went with the more speaking titles for the compositions. Not talking about “Shulgi A”, and “Shulgi B”. Those kinds of things. But rather “A praise hymn to king Shulgi”, and really trying to translate.

16:34  JT

Yeah, little quotations of a text seem to be quite effective.

16:38  SP

Yeah, we also wanted people to touch, so we did some 3D replicas. So people can touch cuneiform tablets. Obviously, not the originals, but they can trace finger marks of an ancient student and can try to hold a tablet, or see how a student who was slightly nervous, squeezed the tablets. This is part of making this really an experience.

17:06  JT

It’s a lovely topic for an exhibition. It’s the kind of thing that’s very easy to relate to. But I wonder, whose idea was it to put on this exhibition? Why was this topic chosen as opposed to anything else? And why is now the time to do it? You know, the material was excavated in the 1950s. What is it about 2023 that makes this relevant and important?

17:30  SP

I was the culprit. {LAUGHS} So I picked it. I pitched it to our leadership; they luckily went with it. Also, it’s an uncommon topic. Why now? I mean, it’s an interesting question. On the one hand, I mean, right now is the time when our students, both in the schools, but also at university, go back to school, which is, of course, like a cyclical event. So it happens, it’s timeless, it happens all the time.

18:00  SP

There are some other larger things at play. So we just restarted and revamped with Augusta McMahon and our excavations in Nippur. So we want to reconnect our audience, really with the topic. Also, I mean, I’m starting the Nippur tablet project, where we want to make sure that those tablets were excavated like 70 years ago, and there are some earlier and a lot of them were excavated slightly later. They’re still not all available for the public. So yeah, we thought it’s a good time. And then overall, I think I do see a certain shift in the last years, decade, to tell more stories about daily life in a museum context. And I mean, schooling is very relatable. We have a lot of school groups visiting and yeah, a large body of students also around to hopefully like the topic.

19:10  JT

You mentioned there that Augusta is going to resume excavations at Nippur. Presumably, you’re not going to be excavating that part of town where House F is, but it’s the Nippur connection more generally?

19:22  SP

Yeah, more generally, the Nippur connection that we’re going back to Nippur, that we are returning. If people are interested in what she’s doing, she has a beautiful lecture up on the ISAC YouTube, where you can learn more about her excavation plans. But she wants to also excavate a domestic context; houses rather than palaces or temples. So this is falling right into our overall goals for the future.

19:52  JT

And then, you mentioned a couple of times there the Nippur tablet project. So you are curator of the cuneiform collection at ISAC, aren’t you? I was wondering how you’re going to make the Nippur tablets available to the public. Is it an issue of that there aren’t photographs of all the objects? Or are you going to provide translations of these hundreds of texts?

20:13  SP

Hopefully, I mean, there’s like several issues, which hopefully we can resolve. And we are just at the beginning of a bigger project. So we will apply for funds and build cooperation. So one thing is, a lot of those tablets are not documented in photography. They are not available to the larger public on our databases yet. The other thing is that, as you may know, many of them even from the very well-studied third season, where the school material comes from, are not published. So our goal will be also to hopefully provide translations for as many of those objects and tablets as we can. But obviously, this is not going to be like me as a tablet curator or me and a group of students. But it’s going to be a larger project with many people collaborating, because there are tablets from the third to the first millennium. And some of them are really, really interesting. And I think it’s time to get those out. And some have been waiting to get published for a really long time.

21:29  JT

Yeah, it’s a fantastic project. There is a wider issue for museums. You know, in terms of collections have now been in existence for quite a number of years, decades and decades. And how do we process that? How do we handle this increasingly old material?

21:46  SP

Yeah. And also, how do we get funding agencies to be re-interested in this material? How can we justify asking for funds? And if we haven’t published them for 70 years, how can we get them re-interested compared to fresh material, which is possibly still in the ground? And probably sounds more exciting than something which has been in museum for a while.

22:13  JT

Yeah. But can I ask if all the material is catalogued? Is it really just a question of detailed academic study? Or is there more behind the scenes work that needs to be done as well?

22:23  SP

{LAUGHS}  As you may very well know from your own catalogues and things … if it’s catalogued, it’s a larger question. So if you know the museum number, and you enter it in our database, you will find a catalogue entry for the tablet. But often there is no description. And often nobody has touched this object for a really long time. For others, there is a lot of scholarship done, and the scholarship just needs to be added to the catalogue. And so the information needs to be connected to the object. And for others, this information just doesn’t exist and needs to be created.

23:08  SP

Same thing, some have been scanned for the CDLI project, some have not been scanned for the CDLI project; we’re photographing those. Another huge issue, which I’m only throwing out there is … and we hope could do for the Nippur tablet project … is to really reconnect tablets with their stratigraphy. And there are also surrounding objects, because there is good information also in our archives about what things have been found together. But as we learned working on the school project, the stratigraphy, the layers, where tablets were found, and objects were found, is still a little bit messy for those early excavations.

23:51  JT

I’m sure there’s a lot of still important work yet to be done that will actually improve our understanding quite significantly of this material. I wonder if we could take a slightly different path at this point. Did you undertake any visitor research to support this exhibition? Did you check the local community to see if they had any recognition of the place Nippur, or they knew what cuneiform was, or things like that?

24:16  SP

This is interesting, {LAUGHS} because you just mentioned Nippur. When I pitched the topic, I wanted the title to be “Back to School in Nippur”. And then the feedback we got from the wider community is that they had not an understanding of Nippur, and they thought we should change the title to “Back to School in Babylon”. And I they told them, {LAUGHS}  “Yeah, it’s a totally different city. I love working on Babylon as well, but no, we can’t”. And that’s how we came up with “Babylonia”, because this was something people could connect with.

24:54  SP

The other thing I noticed as a curator is that during my tours schooling was one of the topics visitors constantly asked the most questions. So they were really interested in learning more about the topic. And in 2019, I curated a small display for our permanent galleries about education. And that turned out to be very popular. And then something we did not expect …. and I’m still amazed by it … is that the metrics we get from our social media specialist, Tasha Vorderstrasse. She tells us that cuneiform tablets are constantly very popular on our social media, and are doing much better than, for example, hieroglyphs. {LAUGHS}  This really helped us make a case for this exhibition to take place.

25:50  JT

Hmm, interesting. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Exhibitions tend to run for a few months, they’re very visible, very high profile; tend to be short lived. The process of preparing for the exhibition, producing it, tends to be a years long process. In this case, how long has it taken to produce the exhibition? And why does it take so long?

26:15  SP

If we leave the brainstorming, pitching part and all that aside, we really worked on it for a little bit over two years. And “we” means a really large team of people. And there is a lot of work to do. Also, a lot of things you don’t see. We touch on cataloguing, for example. So a lot of time at the beginning was research, reading up on scholarship, coming up with an object selection, working on the story, going through revisions, developing a basic design. And then it’s coming down to treating the object. So they’re fit, asking for loans, facilitating this. So it all takes a really long time. And then we also decided to make a published catalogue, which turned up to have 450-something pages, with essays and object descriptions, which is pretty much writing with many co-authors, obviously, a book and editing it. And don’t get me started on the issue of photographing every object and making it shine in the best light. So there’s just an enormous amount of tasks to do.

27:37  JT

You’ve already mentioned that to put on an exhibition, it’s not just you, there’s all sorts of other people involved. I’ll come back to the rest of the team in the moment. But as the lead curator of the exhibition, you have got a lot of jobs to do, don’t you? So could you say something about that, please? What actually do you do when you curate an exhibition?

27:58  SP

Obviously, it’s research and documentation of the material, then trying to make them in a sequence. So at the beginning, it was mostly research, selecting objects, then we moved more into when we selected the object, the storytelling. And at that point, we started working on the catalogue. Also photographing all the objects, which was not my task. And I will come to that, who did most of the tasks, in a moment. But I mean, I had to make sure that the objects were photographed in certain ways. Come up with a concept for the catalogue. Invite people; coordinate this, edit things. And then yeah, you have to write texts, give an idea how the displays will look like. Because of the annotations, we had to pretty much lay everything out ahead of time. And then yeah, we had surrounding tasks, like working on merchandise, programming and things like that. Outreach, obviously, social media. So it’s quite a bit, but I mean, I had a really amazing team working alongside. So often as a curator I was more like coordinating and brainstorming with them, bringing up ideas and working on to realise them.

29:33  JT

Okay, can we turn maybe then to the team at this point? How many people were involved in this and what different roles did they have?

29:43  SP

There’s two sides of this. And I’m gonna talk a little bit about the curatorial team first, and then we’re gonna turn more to the museum team. I’m a professor. So one of my main tasks is to educate our students. So I decided to co-curate with a team of our students. And this was the best decision I could ever make, because they were simply amazing. And bear with me because I’ve got to mention the team.

30:14  SP

So we had Marta Díaz Herrera, who is a PhD candidate in cuneiform studies and linguistics. And she did a lot of the initial research cataloguing the tablets. But later on, she worked really on those annotations because of her knowledge of Sumerian. And she was really crucial in also laying out how the tablets would be displayed. Then we had Jane Gordon, a PhD student in cuneiform studies and comparative literature, who is an amazing editor and really helped with the catalogue. And was later also in charge of editing our children’s book. Two students, undergrads, actually: Danielle Levy and C. Mikhail. They took care of the whole museum photography, because we don’t have a dedicated museum photographer. Madeline Ouimet, a PhD student in cuneiform studies and Near Eastern Art and Archaeology. She worked on all the archaeological stratigraphy research, the non-cuneiform objects, really helped me select those for display. And she did all the amazing reconstruction: how light conditions would look in House F, and drew new floor plans for us and this kind of work. Then we have pretty much Colton Siegmund, who did all our object movement. And he’s now postdoc in Cambridge. And we got our own postdoc Ryan Winters, who helped with all kinds of aspects of the project. And over the summer, we had additionally summer interns, Pallas Eible Hargro and Carter Rote and Sarah Ware who worked on all different aspects.

32:03  SP

So it was a really collaborative effort. And I mean, I can’t thank them enough. Pretty much the whole object description part of the catalogue, we wrote together as a team. I’m really, really proud of the students and their professionalism, their enthusiasm, and also all their ideas they brought in. I think what I want to make sure is that they get also really credit and something for their work. So we make really sure that things like photography, but also the essays they wrote for the catalogue, and their work is credited, and they are mentioned alongside everyone else.

32:49  JT

Yeah, yeah. It’s good. And it’s quite important to recognise the contribution of the wider team. You broke it down into two categories. There’s the curatorial team and the other categories of museum staff. Who were the other people involved in this exhibition?

33:02  SP

That was the other thing we have, I mean, ISAC is a really great museum. And we have a great museum team at our side. And they helped really realising everything. So from registration, who are keeping track of the object movement, and facilitated all the loan objects coming in. Huge shout out to conservation, especially to Alison Whyte, who did an amazing job. Alison made sure that the objects are fit for display, and that everything could be done that they are in good shape and stable. And then you have the whole design team, pretty much doing a lot of work, creating an overall attractive design, deciding how we can bring 126 tablets on the wall of the museum. How that would work in practice, and then building all those amazing display cases for us.

34:06  SP

And something I’d never considered, but every object needs, obviously something to hold it in place. So we had two additional people joining us from mount-making, so they brought it up. And then we also have the museum leadership and curatorial team, which was mostly there to keep all of us on our toes and make sure that we did what we were supposed to be doing and didn’t do anything we were not supposed to do. And then on the other wider side of things, we have people helping with fundraising. So I mean, everything costs a lot, so funds need to come in. We had a wonderful editor for our catalogue–Drew Baumann from the publication office, whom we caused many sleepless nights, because everything in publications is always late. I mean, we were those people who were always late. But in the end, I think it all worked out. And yeah, we have outreach and media were also one of our students, Carter Rote, did a really fantastic job assisting. And we have people running the museum shop, deciding what kind of merchandise we should do, people working in adult and K through 12 education developing programming with us. I always say it takes a building full of people to make an exhibition. And it’s really collaborative and really exciting work.

35:36  JT

With so many different types of expertise involved, it’s not always easy to find the points where you get the synergy between them. So, for example, curators have an idea of what we want to say. And then the interpretation team will say, “Well, this is how people will best be able to understand it”. And the design team will say, “Well, this is what’s going to look best”. How did you find that intersection? Or have you had examples where somebody’s just said, “Look, no, this isn’t going to work”?

36:03  SP

Yeah, I mean, I think this is like the challenge, but also some of the fun to find those compromises. And something also, sometimes good comes out of this. Like, for example, in the beginning, I wanted to have every tablet annotation around it. And our head team was like very worried that this would not make the object shine enough. And it would be too text heavy. And together with some issues conservation had, we decided to put, for example, then some of our object, what became the highlight cases, where there is less annotation and only some information around it. Yeah, I mean, there are ideas, what would work design-wise, which, as a team … curatorial team, we sometimes wanted one thing and the museum people wanted a different thing. But in the end, I think we always found a dialogue. And we found solutions. And I think that was also a great learning experience. But also, yeah, a great collaboration. And, yes, sometimes really, things I was not so convinced about in the beginning turned out really cool.

37:27  JT

Yeah, that’s great. It’s quite an important skill, isn’t it, you know, to recognise the different inputs? I mean, co-curation is a very important concept these days. As part of the team, were you able to work with Iraqi American communities?

37:44  SP

It was something we pondered about. We just had a really successful show curated by my colleague, Dr. Kiersten Neumann, in cooperation with Iraqi artists. So I hope people can check this out. It’s called “Artifacts also Die”. So I was, because I already had a huge curatorial team with the students, I decided to go a different route for my exhibition. But generally, yes, it’s a huge topic for us as well. We try to bring in a lot of more different voices to the museum. And that’s something really en route with different exhibitions. So for one we had, or we just had, more Iraqi co-collaboration. And for this one, we brought in student voices, which I thought very fitting for the topic.

38:40  JT

Yeah. Yeah. Brilliant. An obvious question: as part of the events program, are you organising workshops where children can learn how to write cuneiform. You know, write their name or something like that?

38:53  SP

Absolutely. Kate Hodge from the education team and Tasha Vorderstrasse from adult education, together with their teams, developed with us workshops for children. We also organised teacher workshops, where teachers can learn more about those topics and then bring ancient education for a lesson or two into their classrooms. And we also just if you’re visiting with children the exhibition, and if you have not time doing a workshop, we have, Inshallah, children’s content in the exhibit and a mobile activity card which comes in from times to bring in more engagement. Think cuneiform scavenger hunts. And obviously we are allowing in the workshops children are exploring to write their names, but we are going a little bit further and really introducing them to topics like literacy. But also how the cuneiform script works. And how it’s different or similar, based on their backgrounds, to their own writing.

40:08  SP

And one thing we’re super proud of is our children’s book. So we wrote a whole children’s activity book. It’s called The Adventures of Inanaka and Tuni. Learning to write in ancient Babylonia. And Jane Gordon and myself, we came up with the story of the girl Inanaka and her dog, Tuni. And they are going together to school and learning to write. And Madeline Ouimet, who I already mentioned, she’s an archaeologist and cuneiform studies PhD student, she did amazing illustrations for the book, really marvelously based on her reconstruction of architecture, real objects and things. And our summer scholar, Sarah Ware, she did fully professionally the layout and the design. And one thing is you cannot only read the story of Inanaka, but also if you do it, you can become a scribe yourself. You can write your name, but also decipher proverbs, and find hidden images in the stars. Marta Diaz Herrera just translated the book into Spanish. And we hope the next thing we can do is a translation into Arabic and hopefully other languages in the future. It’s going to be available as a pdf for free but also in a printed version.

41:33  JT

That sounds really cool. I have to ask: have you developed any fun new souvenirs for the gift shop?

41:40  SP

Well, let’s say we have socks, which allow you to run as quickly as King Shulgi. And you can have a strong coffee with Inanna. And cuddle with the world’s first cuneiform plushy or soft toy called Tuppi, “my tablet”, and the usual stuff. But I think those are some of the crazier things. And one of our students, Danielle Levy, she came up with all the ideas. And Pallas, one of our summer scholars, she worked really hard on vectorising all the cuneiform. And yeah, we developed some skills in merchandise design.

42:23  JT

Ah, look at that! Beautiful. And what does he have to say for himself?

42:29  SP

He has the school riddle on it: “The house you enter blind and leave seeing, what is it? A school”.

42:38  JT

Lovely! How much does that set you back?

42:40  SP

I actually don’t know yet. Okay, the prototype which just came in, so leadership has not yet decided on the pricing.

42:49  JT

All right, great. Looks fantastic. I want one of those. Super close to the opening of the exhibition. I know you’re really busy. There’s all sorts of things you have to do. I could talk for hours, but we really ought to let you go. Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

43:02  SP

You’re welcome. And yeah, if you want to learn more, you can check out our Back to School ISAC website, where we have all the information where you can see the catalogue and the merchandise and all the fun events we’re doing.

43:16  JT

Thank you very much indeed.

43:18  JT

I’d also like to thank our patrons. Enrique Jimenez, Jana Matuszak, Nancy Highcock, Jay C, Rune Rattenborg, Woodthrush, Elisa Rossberger, Mark Weeden, Jordi Mon Companys, Thomas Bolin, Joan Porter MacIver, John MacGinnis, Andrew George, Yelena Rakic, Zach Rubin, Sabina Franke, Shai Gordin, Aaron Macks, Maarja Seire, Jaafar Jotheri, Morgan Hite, Chikako Watanabe, Mark McElwaine, Jonathan Blanchard Smith, Kliment Ohr, Christina Tsouparopoulou, TT, Melanie Gross, Claire Weir, Marc Veldman, Bruno Biermann, Faimon Roberts, Jason Moser, Pavla Rosenstein, Müge Durusu-Tanrıöver, Tate Paulette, Willis Monroe, Toby Wickenden, Emmert Clevenstine, Barbara Porter, Cheryl Morgan, Kevin Roy Jackson, as well as those who prefer to remain anonymous.

44:27  JT

I really appreciate your support. It makes a big difference. Every penny received has contributed towards translations. Thanks of course to the lovely people who have worked on the translations on a voluntary basis or for well below the market rate. For Arabic, thanks in particular to Zainab Mizyidawi, as well as Lina Meerchyad and May Al-Aseel. For Turkish, thank you to Pinar Durgun and Nesrin Akan. TEW is still young, but I want to reach a sustainable level, where translators are given proper compensation for their hard work.

45:06  JT

And thank you for listening to Thin End of the Wedge. If you enjoy what we do, and you would like to help make these podcasts available in Middle Eastern languages, please consider joining our Patreon family. You can find us at patreon.com/wedgepod. You can also support us in other ways: simply subscribe to the podcast; leave us a five star review on Apple Music or your favourite podcatcher; recommend us to your friends; follow us on Twitter: @wedge_pod. If you want the latest podcast news, you can sign up for our newsletter. You can find all the links in the show notes and on our website at wedgepod.org. Thanks, and I hope you’ll join us next time.